by Dr. Robert Luebke
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
Let’s say that even for the most objective and fair minded, it’s hard to ignore the timing. Three days after hundreds of parents rallied in front of the Governor’s mansion asking Governor Cooper to reopen the public schools and two hours before the Senate Education Committee approved a bill to require local boards of education to provide parents and students with the option of in-person instruction, Governor Cooper scheduled an 11 am press conference to ”strongly urge” public schools to allow students back in the classroom.
Cooper’s comments stopped short of requiring schools to reopen. He said that’s a local decision. The governor also said we’ve now learned that children are at significantly less risk for COVID-19 than adults and that with precautions, children can be kept safe at school.
Was the Governor’s newfound support for school reopening guided by science?
The Governor seemed to ignore a whole lot of it over the past few months. That children’s risk levels to contract full-blown COVID-19 are significantly less than adults, has been known for some time. (See here, here and here). In addition, for months, the CDC and other medical experts have been telling us schools are safe and that they should re-open (See here and here)
Cooper stopped short of requiring schools to open. He feels that’s a decision that’s best made at the local level. If the governor really believed that, wouldn’t he give locals the authority to make all decisions regarding the opening and closing schools?
The governor mentioned a recent CDC study that said it was OK for schools to reopen. However, doctors and scientists have been saying similar things and urging schools to reopen for months. For someone who repeatedly told us his decision-making is guided by metrics and science, aside from the CDC study, the governor did not mention his metrics or even reference what had influenced his previous decision-making. It was telling.
Why did the governor choose Tuesday to make his announcement? Did the science magically come together on February 2 and give the green light on school reopenings? Hardly. Like any good politician, Gov. Cooper can feel the currents of public opinion. I believe Cooper sensed those currents were beginning to shift and they were starting to blow against him. He wanted to get on the other side of it before lawmakers took the issue in their own hands.
Once again, on the issue of school reopening, the governor continues to do what he does best: lead from behind.